67.66 Miles; Rancho San Diego, CA to PCH to Escondido, CA
I made plans with my Aunt Martha to bike to their place in Escondido tonight to stay with them before I made my way back to Idyllwild to pick up my bike. I bid Vineyard Hacienda adieu and started pedaling through neighborhoods that whisked me northwest back towards the ocean. Komoot did a fantastic job taking on a weaving bike-friendly path down lesser-used roads and bike multi-use paths through the outskirts of downtown San Diego right back to Torrey Pines and the Pacific Coast Highway. Once I reached the ocean, I laid out on the beach and enjoyed the perfects temps and sun with my bikepacking rig laying in the sand.
The latter half of my afternoon was spent cycling directly inland from Encinitas towards Escondido. Unfortunately, Komoot struggled more here, repeatedly taking up giant climbs and down big descents straight into private property notices. I was forced to turn around and retrace my route repeatedly in a giant semi-circle of approaches until the evening came and found me finally arriving at my aunt's house. I hadn't seen my Aunt Martha nor my younger cousin for some time, so it was great to converse and catch up with them. With the scolding heat descending on the area, I was happy to have truncated my route. However, I knew I'd be back to ride the whole thing again as the Stagecoach 400 is beyond a doubt, a phenomenal spread of SoCal environs from pine forests to desert to oceanside beach.
0 Miles; Rancho San Diego, CA
After my late night arrival, and looking at my schedule, I realized I had some flexibility with riding moving forward. First off, a significant heat wave was due to hit the entire SoCal area over the next few days. Looking ahead to Anza-Borrego, it was obvious that most of the daily highs were going to be well over 100 degrees - especially in the washes and canyons. After last summer's theme of heat domes and exclusive night riding on the Sierra Cascades route, I wasn't feeling it to ride through those temperatures. So, I made the decision to come back and ride all those desert sections this winter when temps would be more amenable (see Fully Anza-Borrego). I would modify the Stagecoach 400 route to ride the area and enjoy the San Diego area.
I started by making today a Zero Day, especially after the place I was staying offered me a great rate as a cyclist. I spent the morning enjoying the gardens on the grounds, swimming in the pool, sleeping, and absolutely relaxing. I also worked on adjusting the route to loop back into Escondido after a pit stop at the ocean once more in order to visit my Aunt Martha. By mid-afternoon, I biked to the local movie theater to see The Batman - I had the whole place to myself and loved the movie. Evening came on, I biked back and around the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge before returning to Vineyard Hacienda.
Stagecoach 400 - Day 3 - Along the Pacific Coast Highway before inland through the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
66.42 Miles; Encinitas, CA to Rancho San Diego, CA
After two big days, I sleep in a bit more before disembarking and biking to one of Janna's and mine's favorite breakfast places along the Pacific Coast Highway --> Pannikin Coffee and Tea. After a warm breakfast there, I continued south along the Stagecoach 400 which is pretty much the paved PCH route for much of the day. I stop along the ocean many times to take in the literally perfect conditions with sun-kiss and wavefront before arriving at Torrey Pines State Reserve. I've biked up and through Torrey Pines many times before - notably during our 2015 PCH bike tour. This morning, I sit and enjoy the beach and ocean at the bottom of the climb before pushing up and up the steep grade to summit on sea cliffs and endemic Torrey Pine fields overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean.
I stop at the Torrey Pines visitor center for water and then ride south through the park before exiting back onto the paved bike shoulder of highway. The Stagecoach 400 jumps off the pavement further south and onto dirt singletrack weaving through the eucalyptus grounds of the University of California San Diego. From here, I jump on a bike multiuse paved path that parallels the busy highway to take me south to La Jolla, Mission Beach, and near Point Loma. I ride through neighborhoods before unexpectedly slamming my brakes to a halt at Mitch's (Janna and mine's favorite seafood place in San Diego). I grab some fish and chips plus clam chowder before urging myself on with the late afternoon's arrival. I circumvent Coronado Bay through the literal rush hour heart of downtown San Diego past naval ships and ferries before exiting on the south side of the city to make my way down to Chula Vista.
Here, the route keeps to paved shoulders and swings inland-east before joining some paved multiuse paths that begin to weave through the green riparian corridor of Sweetwater County Park. I ride on dirt singletrack and wide unpaved path through the heart of Chula Vista before arriving at the cusp of sunset at Sweetwater Reservoir on the outskirts of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Here, the route jumps on a spiderweaving network of dirt crisscrossing semi and fully technical singletrack that that wind up and around the western flanks of San Miguel Mountain. The sun quickly sets over the now-distant ocean so I turn on my lights and keep pedaling the singletrack into the darkness arrived. I probably bike another 1-2 hours after dark listening to coyotes yipp and riding alongside the Sweetwater River. I exit the refuge onto paved Campo Road just outside of Rancho San Diego where I turn east off-route to a previously reserved night at Vineyard Hacienda. This place turns out to be spectacular and gorgeous, although I get completely lost in the dark as semis drive by me on the nighttime shoulder of the road. Once there, I settle in and enjoy a nice long shower and peaceful night.
71.67 Miles; Lake Henshaw Resort to Encinitas, CA
I slept hard and woke up to a massive tom turkey gobbling loudly outside my shelter. I arose into the very cold air and walked to the front of the resort for a warm breakfast at the restaurant. Well fed and feeling warm, I pushed out and up and immediate gigantic paved hill. I spent the next hour of so along the shoulder of the highway climbing up and up until a sudden right on unpaved gravel took me through a spell of live oak and green-grass fields. This was Black Canyon Road - an absolutely stunning ride through the heart of the Black Mountain.
Black Canyon Road descended through chaparral and oak through the heart of its namesake Canyon on smooth gravel that passed through riparian corridors rich with plant life. I kept pulling over to look at Black Mountain, take in the quickly changing vegetation-type, and then let loose and fly down the dirt road. Near the bottom, the route veered onto some 4WD red dirt that climbed up and down the contours of adjoining hills before spilling me onto the Coast to Crest Trail. I was completely unfamiliar with the Coast to Crest Trail, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the Stagecoach 400 for me. It's mostly smooth singletrack and multi-use path that stretches from the inland dry mountains to the Pacific Coast. The section in the San Dieguito River Park I started on was a tan ribbon stretching through flower-studded green hills I had just descended.
The heat of the day was really increasing. I joined a paved road up a crazy steep ascent, wove through the outskirt neighborhoods of Ramona, descended an edgy/busy highway with no shoulder near Tims Canyon, and finally got off the pavement again and onto the Coast to Crest Trail near San Pasqual Valley. The Stagecoach 400 skirted neighborhoods keeping to this awesome ribbon of singletrack that stuck to the narrow corridor of the San Dieguito River Park. Flowers, riparian habitat, and reservoirs passed by. I eventually found myself coming into Escondido's urban area but still flanked on either side by the corridor of park. The Coast to Crest Trail went along the shores of Lake Hodges before opening up into a multi-use dirt path that descended Del Dios Gorge. Neighborhoods stood on adjoining hills as I rode up some endless singletrack switchbacks and then descended to a fairly deep crossing of Lusardi Creek where I had to carry my bike through the water.
The tendrils of evening were coming on so I made haste along the San Dieguito River before I spilled out on the cusp of sunset at the Pacific Ocean near Del Mar. The clouds had that hazy, but diffuse beauty, that doused harsh light and softened all appearance in rich color. I jumped on the bike lane adjoining Highway 101 and rode north towards Carlsbad State Beach Campground and my spot for the night.
75.28 Miles; Idyllwild, CA to Lake Henshaw Resort
After winter's cold had sat on my bones for months, I ached for some desert heat and escape. Spring Break 2022 was fast approaching, and I had yet to finalize plans. I started pouring over Bikepacking.com maps and realized the Stagecoach 400 would be perfect. The nearly 400 mile route spans an array of biomes in southwester California. It begins in Idyllwild high up in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs before tumbling down to San Diego, rides along the coast, turns inland to cross Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and then climbs back up to Idyllwild, CA. A trip through deserts, along the Pacific Coast, and up mountains was exactly what I wanted. More-so, I was somewhat familiar with the locale due to our Sierra Cascades Bike Tour the previous summer - I was looking forward to seeing some of these places again. The organizers of the Stagecoach 400 had made a deal with the Idyllwild Inn to let bikepackers stay for a discount at their smallest cabin. I put in reservations and looked forward to Spring Break.
Janna would be flying to Ohio, so this would be a solo trip. The day we left the Canyon for Phoenix, a massive snowstorm hit. We barely skidded along out of the high country before the highways were closed behind us. I dropped Janna at the airport and drove to California. I reached Idyllwild in the evening, checked in, put my car in some long-term parking, and then set around to preparing for tomorrow.
I awoke early and pushed my bike out into the early dawn frost. Sequoias stood dark as light crept over Idyllwild and its lingering winter snow drifts. I started up some side roads before disembarking down dirt, but I did not make it far before I ran into an immediate reroute. A recent burn had resulted in a mandatory closure for all users of the dirt decent off of Idyllwild. I turned my bike around and proceeded to drop down the dirt highway to Lake Hemet. This all felt familiar because Janna and I had ridden this direction in reverse the previous summer on the Sierra Cascades bike tour. I sped past the general store and turned right onto a dirt road that began a beautiful climb up through pines and oak via Thomas Mountain. I turned around constantly to take in the opposing views of spring-touched San Jacinto. On curves, I spied distant San Gorgonio peaked in snow.
I crested the range and sped down the other, more arid side. Chapparal habitat appeared as the road turned dusty and hot. The dirt road vividly crossed the landscape, etching descents in the scrub before turning me out into downtown Anza. I rode over to the gazebo in the local park where Janna and I had relaxed last summer. I refilled my water, ran into the small grocery, and then pushed off to the other side of town.
The pavement ended as I head directly south, slowly climbing up and over the Beauty Mountains along the narrow non-wilderness road. The dirt was severely eroded from winter rains. I more or less paralleled the Pacific Crest Trail that ran atop an adjoining peak while I sailed the valleys. I was in firm desert scrub now. Large granite boulders dotted the hillsides as flashy beige cacti sprouted around me. I rolled up and down dirt 4WD roads across Pine Mountain through gorgeous white granite spires and jumbled mash before grabbing pavement and sailing downwards into Warner Springs.
I was back again in another location from the Sierra Cascades. I stopped at the small gas station for some Gatorades after the hot day, talked to a PCT hiker, and then pedaled hard along the shoulder of the highway to Lake Henshaw. I realized that Lake Henshaw Resort (where I planned on camping) had a business office that closed soon. I sped along in the evening hour and reached the campground with minutes to go. There was literally almost no one tent camping in their vast campground so I picked a spot under a large live oak tucked back in. Wild turkeys called in the twilight while I called Janna on the phone. Darkness came on strong, so climbed into my shelter and slept hard.